Great Mentors of the Movies


The word “mentor” comes from the character Mentor in Homer’s Ancient Greek epic The Odyssey. The wise old man cared for and trained young Telemachus, son of Odysseus. When Telemachus came of age, Athena, goddess of wisdom, disguised herself as Mentor to encourage the young man to set out and find his father, which implies that mentoring combines elements of both male and female wisdom.

We still learn from myth, but in our modern age, we get our myths at the movies, which are as close as your local cineplex, or a click away on your Netflix queue. These memorable mentors of the movies provide great examples of what a mentor can do and should be.

Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita) in The Karate Kid (1984) trains a suburban teen in the art of karate — and life. Words of wisdom: “First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Daniel-san, not mine.” “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do.”

Rafiki (voiced by Robert Guillaume) in The Lion King (1994) is the wise baboon who encourages young Simba to reclaim his rightful place as king of the Pridelands. Words of wisdom: “Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.”

Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) in Good Will Hunting (1997) is the therapist who encourages math genius Will to confront his demons. Words of wisdom: “People call those imperfections, but no, that’s the good stuff.” “Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.”

Gandalf (Ian McKellan) in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) leads Frodo andfriends in their epic battle to destroy the forces of evil. Bonus points to McKellan for being an out and proud gay activist. Words of wisdom: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” “The journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in the Star Wars trilogy (1976-1983) trains Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Force. Bonus points to Guinness for being a gay, if not out, actor. Words of wisdom: “Who’s the more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?” “Use the Force, Luke.”

Yoda in the Star Wars series is the zen master yin to Obi-Wan’s Merlin-esque yang, proving 22 years after his debut in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) that he can swing a mean light saber. Words of wisdom: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” “Do or do not… there is no try.”

Professor Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris and Michael Gambon) in the Harry Potter series is perhaps the most eloquent mentor of our time. When author J.K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore way gay, it had no impact whatsoever on book sales or film grosses. Words of wisdom: “Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.” “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” “Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) in The Wizard of Oz (1939) — perhaps the gayest film of all time — embodies all the qualities of a truly great mentor:
Stay behind the scenes: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
Know who you are: “I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.”
Set high expectations: “Bring me the broomstick of the Witch of the West!”
Know something of the mind: “Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity.”
Know something of courage: “You are under the unfortunate delusion that simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage. You’re confusing courage with wisdom.”
Know the ways of the heart: “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”
Know your limitations — and when your work is done: “I can’t come back! I don’t know how it works! Good-bye, folks!”

Did I leave out your favorite movie mentor? If so, let me know…

About The Author

Adam Sandel is a playwright, screenwriter, lyricist, journalist and film critic living in San Francisco, California. He's the film writer for dot429 Magazine and is the host of the internet radio show "Happy Hour" on

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